No argument here. But while the Democrats’ new and (allegedly) improved primary schedule would help, there are some other noteworthy factors — beyond his charisma and high name-recognition — that give Edwards an advantage over other would-be Hillary alternatives.
First off, he’s no longer a senator. This seems counterintuitive: after all, when people kibitzed about Edwards’s future back in ’04, one worry was that he might struggle to stay relevant. In fact, Edwards’s exit from Congress has been a blessing. Instead of hanging around Washington as a member of the minority party, fulminating against the Bush administration and casting doomed votes, Edwards has been free to bolster his résumé as he sees fit — and he’s made some smart choices.
Early in 2005, Edwards signed on as the director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, a new think-tank based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. During the 2004 primaries, Edwards’s facility with class-related issues stood out in the Democratic field; thanks to his UNC gig, he should be even more adroit with economic matters come 2008. What’s more, as Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza noted a few months back, Edwards has participated in union actions across the country (e.g., picketing with Teamsters head James Hoffa at the University of Miami and aiding the hotel/service union UNITE HERE’s national organizing drive); campaigned for Senator Ted Kennedy’s minimum-wage-hike bill; stumped in several states that will vote on minimum-wage ballot initiatives this fall; and wooed union leaders in private meetings. As a result, Edwards has an excellent chance of being organized labor’s favorite candidate during the 2008 presidential cycle.
Last time around, one oft-cited Edwards weakness was his relative lack of foreign-policy experience. But Edwards has taken steps to remedy this perceived deficiency, co-chairing a Council on Foreign Relations task force on Russian-American relations with Jack Kemp, the former Republican VP candidate, and keeping a busy international-travel schedule. In recent months, for example, Edwards has spoken at the London School of Economics (and chatted with British Prime Minister Tony Blair), visited Russia and India, and addressed the Brussels Forum on “Transatlantic Challenges in a Global Era”; trips to China and Africa are scheduled for later this year. When the Israel-Hezbollah conflict came up in New Hampshire, Edwards — who offered a decidedly pro-Israel tack — mentioned that he’d been at the Israel-Lebanon border three weeks earlier.
While Edwards’s Iraq reversal has already been noted, his dexterity in this area is hard to overstate. Kerry’s current push for quick withdrawal from Iraq seems to confirm the GOP’s 2004 critique: he’s a flip-flopper. Clinton’s decision to back the war effort while criticizing the Bush administration’s execution fit the standard anti-Clinton narrative, too: Hillary, like her husband, wants to be all things to all people. In contrast, Edwards’s new support for a phased US pullout (40,000 troops withdrawn immediately, the rest brought home in 12 to 18 months) doesn’t immediately confirm any established anti-Edwards bias.